2013 elections – in real time

Today, Warwickshire undergoes its 2013 county council elections, where 62 seats are being contested.

This year, something is a little different however. Right now, voters can see a history of the area they live in – showing results back to 2005. And tomorrow (Friday 3rd May), the day of the vote count, we will be delivering real-time results to you via our online election coverage.

As soon as an area is declared, our overall countywide, district, borough, and individual electoral area level maps will update, giving you an instant visual indicator of the seats declared, and the shift of power (at an area-by-area level).

Results will be available on the go (being both mobile and tablet friendly), so you can stay up to date on your area wherever you are.

Plus, to cap it all off, the @WarksDemocracy Twitter feed will be churning out real-time results as they are announced. We’d thoroughly recommend you subscribe to them now – if you haven’t already done so.

To have a look at candidate information for your area, you can either visit the overview page for your district / borough:

Or you can look at the overall view and select your locality.

For developers interested in making use of the data on the day – we’re making it immediately open for you via a Google Fusion table. You can grab our detailed results for your personal mashups right here, and to get you started, why not grab and add in a KML layer of our electoral boundaries to go alongside it. Or, you could try mashing it up against another Fusion table of previously elected candidates.

And for those of you interested in how we created the 2013 elections coverage area – here’s the breakdown:

Meaning, we’ve managed to create this tool, on (effectively) a £0 budget – using existing, or open source, tools and services.

So – have a look around, follow the coverage tomorrow, and let us know what you think!

Warwickshire Direct homepage re-design

The re-designed Warwickshire Direct homepage has now gone live. Over the last 18 months the website been thoroughly tested through regular usability sessions, web-page reviews, surveys, navigation testing and web-page analytics

The collected information, comments and viewpoints have helped steer the development direction of the homepage, which we hope visitors find simpler to use and quicker to find what they are looking for.

The header and footer have remained the same and will be focused on at a later date, for now we have looked at the feature area and the main body navigation of the page.

Top feature area

The features area at the top of the page (under the header) has been given an overhaul. The new design is split between a features box and a news box.

Features box

super-box

  • Quick and easy access to most common tasks;
  • Relevant and useful information without leaving the home page;
  • Latest job feed, school holiday dates, library book search, journey planning, reporting options and latest tweets;
  • Interchangable slides e.g. “Christmas opening hours” or “service disruptions”;
  • It has had successful live navigation testing;
  • It is optimised and fully functional on mobile devices.

News box

news-box

  • The news box can display latest news or campaign information;
  • Updated from the Warwickshire News website;
  • Up-to date, varied and interesting items;
  • Optimised and fully functional on mobile devices.

Main body

The body navigation has been changed from action headings to structural headings.

body-content

  • It is now organised by section, which reflect the structure of the website;
  • There are more links but they are better organised;
  • No more confusing “Apply for it” headings (although some have been incorporated into the feature area);
  • Popular sub-links are listed underneath the main headings;
  • Allows for quick scanning of headings and sub-links to find the destination;
  • We can easily modify the sections or add extra items;
  • Designed for mobile/tablet device compatibility;

Other changes

  • The top navigation menu has been removed from the homepage, we found this confused people and wasn’t heavily used. Also body of the page now includes the main navigation headings. The navigation bar still appears on other pages;
  • The events feed has been removed and is replaced by links to various event options;
  • Govmetric reporting (smiley faces) has been removed, this is used to report on individual services so kept on other web pages.
  • The old My Warwickshire box contents has been split out across the other headings. The previous politician post code search can still be found on the corporate site which has a direct link on the new page.

Mobile

mobile

  • Fully optimised style sheet for smart-phones (or devices under 480px width);
  • Fully functional features and news box with scroll arrows;
  • Main body navigation re-orders and re-sizes for mobile devices;
  • Further testing needed to see if small tablet/tables style sheets are required.

Feedback

We’d love to here what you think of the new design, let us know in the comments below or by emailing the E-Services team at webmaster@warwickshire.gov.uk.

Homepage design survery results

Towards the end of 2012 we ran a survey on the Warwickshire Direct homepage with three potential new homepage designs, with the aim to collect votes and feedback to help further develop and improve our website homepage.

We are testing new designs after usability sessions highlighted some shortcomings when navigating from the current homepage along with comments about the page being busy and cluttered.

The challenge is to make navigating over a thousand web pages as easy as possible and to not make people think too much about how to find what they need.

Proposed designs

  • Version 1 – New feature section with current homepage layout
  • Version 2 – New feature section with two column layout
  • Version 3 – New feature section with one column layout (large headers)

Votes

We received 169 votes in total, 74 of these were from staff and 95 non-staff.

Total votes

Version 1 pipped version 2 by 3% in overall votes.

  • Version 1 – 45%
  • Version 2 – 42%
  • Version 3 – 13%

Staff votes

Staff preferred the current body design (version 1) which had 59% of the 74 staff votes.

  • Version 1 – 59%
  • Version 2 – 30%
  • Version 3 – 11%

Non-staff votes

Non-staff preferred version 2 bringing in 52% of their 95 votes.

  • Version 1 – 34%
  • Version 2 – 52%
  • Version 3 – 15%

Full results

Version Staff votes Non-staff votes Total votes Staff % Non-staff % Total %
Version 1 44 32 76 59% 34% 45%
Version 2 22 49 71 30% 52% 42%
Version 3 8 14 22 11% 15% 13%
Total 74 95 169

Sample of Comments

Version 1 comments

  • “Clearer to see and read. Better set up.”
  • “Easier to find the service you want from a list.”
  • “Puts similar types of query from diverse groups in one place. “
  • “Headings are catchy and should be easily understood by anyone accessing the website.”
  • “Good Layout, easy to read text options in the menus
  • “A more professional looking design, the other two waste a lot of screen space with large fonts and look a little childish.”
  • “Prefer things to be categorised by action, rather than service area. The boxes look nicer too.”
  • “It looks more professional and easier to understand for customer “
  • “Visually more attractive than other two options”
  • “Prefer to view based on the action I’m going to do (report it) rather than what I’m reporting (pothole/highways)”

Version 2 comments

  • “Cleaner, more open appearance”
  • “Easier on the eye when navigating the categories”
  • “Everything you need to find is on one page – save searching through lots of pages.”
  • “Headings seem to lead to the endpoint more clearly.”
  • “I like the idea of having the subject headings, rather than apply for it, report it etc”
  • “I prefer the simple logical groupings and headings- never liked the “do it” “apply for it” style.”
  • “Easily read on my android phone.”
  • “less cluttered than Version 1″
  • “It is more clear if i want to go to a section that i intend to and more easy to choose the category which i want to go under the same section e.g. school transport”
  • “Very simple to navigate and far less busy”

Version 3 comments

  • “As the services are all listed in alphabetical order in one list I found this version easier to find what I wanted.”
  • “Better on mobile. one column is unfussy – easy to make sense of”
  • “Clear, distinct and easy to read”
  • “A good use of large sub-section headings. easier to read as it reads naturally from left to right in the subheading section. less confusing than ‘report it’ ‘find it’ headings”
  • “It creates really clean and easy to distinguish areas by splitting the content into main headers in the left hand side and links on the right hand side.”
  • “Like the flow of the menu’s easy to find what you’re looking for”
  • “The sections are easily visible and accessible”

Conclusion

There was no overall clear winner and we received valid points and feedback for all design’s. However, it was obvious that Version 3 was the least popular.

It’s interesting to see staff and non-staff prefer different versions of the new homepage design. Staff members preferred version 1 with the current action based design, while non-staff members preferred version 2’s two-column navigation structure.

Version 1’s popularity with staff may be due to familiarity with using it to find their way around the website, while version 2 seemed to be more popular with non-staff because it was logically laid out and reflects the structure of the website.

Outcomes

We have taken all the comments on board from this survey and the previous usability sessions while we have continued to develop the home page.

We have chosen to further develop version 2 as overall it seems the best direction to take the design. This was the preferred version of non-staff who are arguably our most important target market. The comments received seemed to suggest the layout and structure of the page was more obvious and easier to find what visitors are looking for.

There were comments that the pages were boring, lacked images and that version 1 looked more professional. We will continue to develop version 2 to try to bring it up to scratch, the version in the mock-up was an initial design and hadn’t had a lot of time dedicated to it.

A newer version of the page has been live-tested with a few members of the public in December 2012. It proved to be straight forward to navigate to a number of set pages from the new homepage and we received positive feedback along with some constructive comments which have helped tweak the design further.

We hope to launch the new page design in early 2013. There will be ongoing testing and tweaking to fixing any issues and we will continue to run usability sessions to help us improve and evolve the homepage.

Evolving the Warwickshire Direct Homepage

*Edit* – The survey is now closed. Thank you to everyone who took part and voted for your favourite, we have received a lot of constructive and useful feedback which will help move our website forward. Stay tuned for updates! 

We have been looking at the design of our home page to try and make it simpler, easier and quicker to find the things you are looking for.

Feedback from usability sessions suggest that some people think the current Warwickshire Direct home page design is a bit too busy and the headings may not be as clear as they could be.

So we’ve come up with some tweaks and re-designs which we’d like your feedback on.

Mock home page designs

  1. Current body with new feature box
  2. Two-column body with new feature box
  3. One-column body with new feature box

A new features area

In all of these, we have a re-designed features area. The current design is a bit limited and lets us enter three features along with images and links to pages or news items.

The new task box will let you complete certain tasks directly from the home page, such as renew a library book or report a pot hole. These tasks will be the most common tasks people visit the website for. This will make the home page more functional and useful to visitors.

The new news box can serve a similar purpose to the current box, highlighting the latest news or announcements. However it is smaller and takes up less screen area.

A new body design

We have three designs to test, two with different body layouts and one with the current design. In version 1 we have kept the original homepage design. Version 2 has a two column design and Version 3 has a one column design.

The menu’s in version 2 and 3 are identical, however they are organised differently on the page. These headings follow the structure of the website, so you will find a Business and a Libraries heading, instead of the previous Apply for it and Find it headings.

Feedback

So, what do you think of the designs? Are we heading in the right direction? Are the designs clearer, more useful? Give us some feedback by voting on this form, or by clicking Vote on any of the designs.

Introducing… Maps

Over the past few months, we’ve been pretty busy, and pretty quiet. Most of our time has been spent finishing off the transfer from our old site to our new Warwickshire Direct / Council / Staff and Partners sites, and it’s been a pretty complex process – but it’s almost there.

While we’ve been doing that however, we’ve also been working on another, open, project. Maps.

To give a little backstory, we’ve wanted a replacement for Google Maps on the Warwickshire Direct site for almost as long as the new style has been live.

Not because we don’t like Google Maps – we think they’re brilliant – but we can’t get around some Ordnance Survey issues, and we just can’t afford their new pricing model.

So one afternoon three months ago, we sat down on a day where there weren’t many people in the office, grabbed a coffee, put our earphones in and began looking seriously at open projects. And in particular, we began looking at Open Layers in great detail.

And in the space of an afternoon – we had a (very rough) demo of a mapping site, using Open Layers to load a Google Map as its base, with some of our Open Data on top of it.

Shortly after that, when we’d shown the map off to a few people, we swapped the Google Map base out for OpenStreetMap. And then we put some OS derived data on top of it as a test.

Which looked – lovely. And before we knew it – we had something pretty flexible, and pretty powerful – and completely free.

About two months ago, we opened it up to our internal staff – specifically asking them to be be honest (and harsh) with us about what they thought. Our first round of testing (over the Christmas period) told us that our users weren’t going to use maps in the way we’d expected them to, and so we changed our approach dramatically. A little while later, changes to make the maps more usable were made – and we set a new version live.

Then people asked us to include some new things, and we did. And we tested how quickly we could swap out the base map for the entire system.

So with the rough drafts, the dramatic changes, the inclusions of new things, the swapping out of maps and the (fairly) constant set of updates and changes that we’re rolling out (plus, we’ve re-written it three times from the ground up, forgot to mention that) – you’re probably thinking that we must be spending a lot of time and energy on this. Right?

Nope.

That’s the best thing about all of this. From the start (six months ago) to now (mid March at the time of writing) – we’ve done roughly four weeks (20 working days) worth of ‘development’ work on it. And when I say ‘we’, I mean one member of staff doing the development – three pitching in with brilliant ideas. Work fitted in around other priorities, we should add.

If you’d like to look at our new maps, try one of these links:

…both should be mobile friendly, but there are subtle differences between each version. Why? We just couldn’t decide which design we liked more – so we thought we’d leave it up to you to tell us.

When you’re using the maps please remember to give us as much feedback as possible. We really do want to make this a public led mapping system – and we can’t do that, without you.

By the way – we should add – we’re extremely thankful to the members of the Mappa Mercia project (a local OpenStreetMap group) who gave us a huge amount of help over the past few months, and lots of encouragement. They even trawled through Warwickshire data to try and clean up the map in advance of the launch – and they did it all for free. If you’re interested in mapping and you live around these parts – we’d thoroughly encourage you to go to a meetup and contribute to a truly amazing project.

Plus, our developer liked Open Layers and OpenStreetMap so much, he moved the project into an open WordPress theme – which he’ll be launching in the near future.

But now that we’ve done it – we’re left with a nagging question.

“Why on earth didn’t we do this before?”

Our new approach to content

The website redesign is a few weeks old now, and things are beginning to settle down a bit. The ‘launch’ was far from the end – not only do we have the Corporate site to finish, but also the Zone (for children and young people) and out site for our staff and practitioners.

But it doesn’t even stop once these are live. Right from the start, we knew that the ‘launch’ would only the start. We wanted this to be a base to build on, develop and adapt. Things move so fast in the online world – the iPad is only just over a year old and has already revolutionised the way we interact online; smartphones are accounting for more a larger proportion of out visitors each month; and as for social networks, despite recent reports on stalling growth, Facebook still has 30million users in the UK.

We don’t know what the ‘next big thing’ will be – no-one does (despite what some will claim) – which is why the second most important word during the work was ‘flexibility’ (for info, the first was ‘customer’).

In order to adapt, change and generally make sure we’re ready for whatever comes next, we needed to make sure our content could be used flexibly.

Reduction

Less is more. The first step was to try to reduce what we have. Over the years, we had racked up a fairly massive 9000 pages. This was far too much, and we’ve tried to reduce it down to what is needed. We probably erred on the side of caution in this respect – not wishing to remove anything that we felt might be needed – and it will be an ongoing task refine and adjust over the next months and years.

Amalgamate

Previously, all of the content surrounding a service or a particular piece of information could be spread across a range of pages. There could be a home/introduction page, an application form page, a contact details page, a page of ‘useful’ links, a page of ‘useful’ documents, a page of opening times, a page of fees and cost, and maybe a page of ‘other useful information’. That’s potentially eight pages already!

The more pages, the more clicking around and the harder it is to find what you want.

There are a couple of other problems with this approach.

Firstly, search engine results aren’t particularly useful. If you did a search for ‘School buses’, you’d be presented with eight different results to decide from. Even worst, if you had just searched for ‘Buses’, you might have to work through a further eight pages (about ‘normal’ bus services) before you got down to the area you wanted.

Secondly, it makes it difficult to record accurate visitor figures for these pages. The statistics would be spread out across all of the pages, and prevents us getting a proper grip on the visitors that used the service. This in turn reduces our ability to identify our most popular services and work on improving them – making them quicker to access and easier to use.

Reusable

Separation of content from presentation. Use on plasma screens, transfer to new sites, mobile apps, social media feeds.

Open

‘Open data’ is a hot topic at the moment, but doesn’t need to refer to just numbers and figures. We want to make sure that everything we create can be picked up and used easily and quickly by developers and individuals in ways that make sense to them.

Categorised and tagged

Categorisation of the content is essential to this flexibility. We have so far identified four types of content that might be produced for a service:

  • Service delivery information – what a customer needs to know to access a service
  • News – promotions, campaigns, awards, latest events, etc.
  • Events – open days, workshops, recitals, courses, etc
  • Consultations – surveys, questionnaires, and other engagement activities

I’m under no doubt that there will be more (documents and leaflets?), but for now we’re working to these four.

Within these content types, we can categorise individual elements by the service that they relate to, and by tagging specific elements of those services within them, as well as (in some cases) the location that it relates to.

These four different content types are currently held in four different systems, which may or may not be where we want to be long term. But at the moment, this isn’t restricting our ability to take the information stored in these, tag them and use the results.

So what does this result in?

Pulling all of these principles together allows us to do some quite exciting things:

  • We can pull news stories and events together to display on our plasma screens in our one stop shops.
  • Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council can pull out just the events relating to Nuneaton and Bedworth and display them on their website.
  • We can create a mobile app that looks at pulling together news and service delivery information for social care.

And, ultimately, we can pull together all of the service delivery information, events, news and consultations relating to a service together onto one page.

…To be continued…

24 hours in…

So, the new site design has been live for 24 hours already. The design (which includes all these new features), was rolled out across our ‘normal’ web pages, our forms system, our site search and a range of databases.

We’ve just finished added the social bookmarking links, which will make it easier for you to share services and information.

(As an aside – we are going to be including Twitter in the near future. This was all ready to go, but Twitter made changes to their link sharing format in the API, which has caused some last minute problems. UPDATE – Twitter button has been fixed and added back in.)

We’ve worked through the site, just making sure everything’s working and making sense. We’ve been checking links and adding links and services information to the ‘You may also be interested in’ and ‘Useful links’ boxes.

But please let us know if you spot any problems. The scale of the site means that some issues will have cropped up, and we want to know about them as soon as possible so we can fix them.

It’s worth remembering that this really is only part of the story – albeit a very large and important part. We will be following this up with a few more ‘launches’ in the next couple of weeks and months:

  • News site, which promised to open up our news through much more granular RSS feeds;
  • Corporate website, focusing on the working of the organisation;
  • Staff, Partners and Practitioners website, containing all of the information for those groups;
  • The Zone, aimed at children and young people

But for now, thank you for your support, and please keep the feedback coming.

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